The last time we checked, pennies were still legal tender in the United States.
On several recent shopping trips, Jayson Greenberg wondered what the deal was with pennies — or the lack thereof — at Chipotle Mexican Grill in West Caldwell.
Greenberg e-mailed Bamboozled several receipts he collected to demonstrate.
On the first, dated July 13, the nine items added up to $32.93. There was $2.31 in tax. The total should have been $35.24, but next to the “total” line on the receipt, it said $35.25.
The next receipt, with the same sale date, showed a subtotal of $8.64. The tax was $0.60, so the grand total should have been $9.24. But no. With Chipotle-style math, the total was $9.25.
The third receipt, dated July 17, had a subtotal of $17.75 and tax of $1.24. The total? $19.00, but elementary school students would have come up with $18.99.
Greenberg figured this was a company policy that had to do with getting people in and out as fast as possible. Makes sense.
But at this store, when transactions are completed, the change is automatically distributed from registers that spit out the coins, rather than by a cashier counting coins by hand. With a cashier, the time-saving theory would make sense. Not so much with the machines.
Greenberg’s not worried about pennies, but the principle. The right and wrong.
So Greenberg asked a manager about the rounding, and he received a less-than-satisfactory response.
“He said, ‘Oh, it’s a computer program. It is just rounding numbers. It takes a little from certain receipts and gives a little to others. What do you want? A few pennies?’ ” Greenberg said.
He wasn’t happy, so he contacted Bamboozled.
We found this story of small change to be most interesting, so we asked readers to share their receipts so we could compare.
One from New York City also rounded the numbers, and it, too, said nothing about rounding on the bill.
We even got one from Missouri, but the final bill was $9.68 and was not rounded.
Bamboozled made two purchases at the Freehold location, and our purchases were added correctly, with totals of $8.00 and $7.50. We noticed the prices in that store were odd, but we figured that was so that when the tax was added, the final bill would end in a zero or a five to avoid the dreaded pennies. Same at the East Brunswick location, where our two purchases added up to even numbers.
The rounding — sometimes in the consumer’s favor and sometimes in the store’s favor — didn’t seem right without public posting, so we asked Consumer Affairs.
We were pointed to several statutes, including N.J.S.A. 51:1-97a(4), the section of the Weights and Measures Act that deals with misrepresentation of the price of any commodity, NJSA: 56:8-2, the general provisions of the Consumer Fraud Act, and NJSA 56:8-2.5, which says: “It shall be an unlawful practice for any person to sell, attempt to sell or offer for sale any merchandise at retail unless the total selling price of such merchandise is plainly marked by a stamp, tag, label or sign either affixed to the merchandise or located at the point where the merchandise is offered for sale.”
Well, the prices of the food are clearly posted. Just not the funky rounding math.
Then Greenberg sent us a new receipt dated Aug. 2. The West Caldwell store made a change.
The new one had a subtotal of $17.78 and $1.24 tax. Then there was a new line that read: Round -0.02.” The final total was $19.00.
The store added a line about rounding to its bills.
An Aug. 10 receipt from the Wayne Chipotle also had a rounding line.
That’s a step in the right direction, but neither Greenberg nor the reader who sent us the Wayne receipt saw any posted signs about the rounding. And even if all receipts had a line about rounding, customers don’t receive receipts until after the bills are paid. That means no advance disclosure or warning until after money changes hands.
We asked Chipotle, which has some 1,300 eateries nationwide, about its policy.
“It’s something we do in some high volume markets, including New Jersey,” said spokesman Chris Arnold. “The way it works is that prices auto-round to the nearest quarter and that’s indicated on the receipt. The idea is simply to limit the possible combinations of change on cash transactions to keep the lines moving quickly in high volume areas.”
But, we said, until recently, the West Caldwell store didn’t have a “rounding” line on its receipt.
That’s because of a new policy that went into effect Aug. 1.
Because of consumer queries about rounding, Chipotle decided to add the rounding line to the receipt.
There was another positive change. In the two dozen New Jersey stores, when bills are rounded, they are now only rounded down — in favor of the consumer. Prior, bills could be rounded up or down.
“It was never our intention to have a policy that was confusing or misleading,” Arnold said.
We asked Consumer Affairs about this issue, and it proceeded to have a conversation with Chipotle.
“We will follow up to ensure that the restaurants’ actual practice matches this stated policy,” said acting director Eric Kanefsky. “Consumers should be aware that New Jersey law requires businesses to provide consumers with clear and accurate information about the prices they charge for goods and services.”
He said any consumer with a complaint about past or current practices by Chipotle should contact the restaurant itself, or call the Division of Consumer Affairs at (800) 242-5846.
Bamboozled is glad to hear of the billing changes.